Lawmakers Want Fire Plane Fleet in Wyoming
September 18, 2015
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  • Wyoming’s congressional delegation wants the U.S. Forest Service to consider the state as a long-term base for its fleet of seven firefighting planes.


    The delegation mentioned the Cheyenne Regional Airport and a business in Greybull as possible locations in a letter it sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Robert Bonnie.


    U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, all R-Wyoming, wrote the letter Tuesday and said the Cheyenne airport and B&G Industries in Greybull specifically have shown interest in housing the HC-130H airplanes.


    “The (Cheyenne) airport tells us it currently has an available and move-in-ready facility which could easily support the maintenance, management and administrative programs for the C-130 fleet,” the delegation wrote.


    “The airport states it is postured to help the Forest Service save money by offering fuel incentives and sharing the cost of de-icing and snow removal.


    “We ask that you consider all viable Wyoming facilities in your search for a long-term facility for the Forest Service,” it said.


    B&G Industries at the Greybull airport is an aircraft repair business. The facility has a new runway and state-of-the-art hangar space.


    The Forest Service is looking in the 11 westernmost states for a permanent base for its HC-130H aircraft, USDA spokesman Michael Illenberg told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Wednesday.


    These planes are a type of C-130 aircraft. C-130s are big-bellied airplanes that the military uses. The HC-130H is a four-propeller plane.


    The letter from the delegation arrived at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Illenberg confirmed Thursday in an email. Cheyenne and Greybull will be among many possible locations the Forest Service will consider, he added.


    The Cheyenne airport has hangar space to provide maintenance on one of the large planes at a time, said Jim Schell, deputy director of aviation at the Cheyenne airport.


    The airport here has hangar space to provide maintenance work except for the tail area, Schell said. Work would be done on the hangar door to accommodate the tail and still provide climate-controlled air throughout the building.


    The project of basing the fleet at the airport may need to be a joint venture with the Wyoming Air National Guard, Schell added.


    Providing a permanent base for the Forest Service aircraft at the Cheyenne airport would be a positive step, Schell said, adding, “I can see it bringing jobs to the region.”


    The Forest Service will receive the airplanes through an arrangement with the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will transfer seven air tankers to the Forest Service that will be used to fight forest wildfires.


    The Forest Service has received one of those planes, which is called Tanker 118. The plane helped fight wildfires all summer, Jennifer Jones, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said Thursday.


    Tanker 118 was deployed 96 times from July 25 through Tuesday and dropped 274,133 gallons of fire retardant. It responded to 19 fires during that time, all within a 500-mile radius of Sacramento, California, according to information from Jones.


    The plane currently is located at Forest Service Air Station McClellan in Sacramento.


    The other six air tankers that will be part of the Forest Service fleet will be transferred to the agency by 2019.


    Lots of changes will be made to the planes before they are equipped to fly firefighting missions. Changes include modifying wings and air frames, as well as making and installing fire retardant tanks, according to a news release from the Forest Service.